There are 19 thoughts on “Conclusions in Search of Evidence”.

  1. Ms Riess may be more satisfied if the LDS Church went the route of the Unitarian Church — “politically correct,” morally relative (“whatever floats your boat”), theologically silent (believe pretty much what you want, as long as you’re politically liberal), and numerically insignificant.

    As a former Unitarian, I’ve already “Been there, seen that.”

    Thanks, but no thanks.

  2. Thank you for this analysis of Jana Reiss’ new book. I am surprised that her methodology was so shaky, in light of the support she received from Armand Mauss, a distinguished scholar in social studies in general and the Latter-day Saints in particular.

    If the David Campbell who supported her survey is the department chair for political science at Notre Dame, who co-authored the book American Grace with Harvard’s Robert Putnam, I am even more puzzled. That book is densely packed with studies of religiously affiliated people in the US, was published only a decade ago, and in study after study, the Latter-day Saints are found to be distinctly positive in the measures applied. The one finding where the LDS have high negatives is how they are regarded by their fellow Americans: they are the most negatively viewed by people outside the Church of Jesus Christ, second only to Muslims. The LDS themselves, however, have very positive views of people of other churches, comparable to how the members of those churches regard their own affiliation.

    I would hope that Mauss and Campbell would have advised Reiss about the methodology of her survey. I would be interested in whether they have addressed those issues subsequent to publication of the book.

    At a more fundamental level, I wonder how Reiss addresses her own survey’s relationship to the several studies reported in American Grace that cast the Church and its membets in a positive light, and the study on youth and religion reported in the book Almost Christian, which has a chapter titled Mormon Envy, describing the finding that Latter-day Saint youth and young adults are way ahead of their peers in other denominations in their levels of faith commitment. These two books describe the Church of Jesus Christ as an impressive faith community with characteristics that are very desirable in American society in general, and one that succeeds in acculturating its young members and gaining their loyalty markedly better than its American neighbor faiths. Does Reiss take note of these other studies that depict a positive picture of the Church and reconcile them with her own conclusions?

    My personal observation as a member born at the end of 1949, growing up in a blue collar neighborhood in Salt Lake County where most of the fathers were employed by either the Kennecott copper mining and smelting operation, or by the Post Office, is that the Church has advanced by leaps and bounds in providing more scholarly understandings to its members about its history, its scriptures, and its teachings. In my own experience, having lived among Latter-day Saints in Utah, Colorado, Idaho, Washington State, California, Maryland, Virginia, and Japan, the level of faithfulness and active participation has risen appreciably. My most recent calling was as a ward mission leader, and I spent a good deal of time participating in meetings with our young missionaries. I found them very impressive, especially in contrast to me and my contemporaries when I served my mission fifty years ago. It is hard for me to be pessimistic about these young adults who will be leading the Church over the next half century.

  3. This isn’t so much an expose on Jana Riess’s book as an expose of Dr. Gee’s misreading of his sources. This has been documented multiple times online and in print and yet he continues to be published in these kinds of venues where he can further push more misreadings. I am convinced, as are his non-Mormon colleagues, that when Dr. Gee works in his specialized field of Egyptology he is a reliable scholar of the field. I am not convinced at all that when he comments on Mormon topics I can take his writings seriously.

    • TC, would you like to offer substantiation for your criticism? As I said in my post, I’m not a fan of unfounded assertions dressed up as scholarship. Anyone can make a claim. Can you back yours up?

      Beyond that, can you offer support for Reiss’ claims? I’ve listened to her talk about her book and I was unconvinced by her claims.

      • If you aren’t familiar with Dr. Gee’s trail of misreading then I would definitely suggest you follow up on that. In particular, a few years ago he mangled an essay by Paul Owen in the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies and was called out for it on other blogs. Other than that, no, I don’t need to defend my statement above other than pointing to Riess’s book, which had a scholar who provided the subject much more sustained attention than Dr. Gee. Gee also usually only speaks up about these issues when he perceives someone else as a threat to his team, which he clearly does with Riess.

        • No, I’m not familiar with his “trail of misreading.” Why not enlighten us all since you took the time to “rebut” my thank-you?

          “I don’t need to defend my statement above other than pointing to Riess’s book” is begging the question. If you’re not familiar with begging the question, it’s offering the thing in question as proof of the thing in question. It’s circular–and, therefore, specious–reasoning.

          Next time you take the time to criticize something, maybe take a page from Dr. Gee’s playbook and offer support. If he’s wrong in his criticism of Reiss’ book, I’d really like to know it. But merely accusing him of “mangling an essay” and asserting that he was “called out on other blogs” is hardly refuting his claims.

  4. Thank you, John, for this “exposé.” Not that I love criticism, but I really dislike unfounded assertions dressed up as scholarship. I appreciate not only that you expose the flaws in Riess’ research and conclusions, but that in so doing you reveal the right way to go about studying the subject. Perhaps Sister Riess will take your advice to rework her study and find a more accurate picture of young latter-day saints.

  5. This quotation from Pres. Romney is aimed more at Riess’s current blog than the book being reviewed (an excellent review), but seems entirely relevant:

    I desire to call your attention to the principle of loyalty, loyalty to the truth and loyalty to the men whom God has chosen to lead the cause of truth. I speak of “the truth” and these “men” jointly, because it is impossible fully to accept the one and partly reject the other.

    I raise my voice on this matter to warn and counsel you to be on your guard against criticism. I have heard some myself and have been told about more. It comes, in part, from those who hold, or have held, prominent positions. Ostensibly, they are in good standing in the Church. In expressing their feelings, they frequently say, “We are members of the Church, too, you know, and our feelings should be considered.”

    They assume that one can be in full harmony with the spirit of the gospel, enjoy full fellowship in the Church, and at the same time be out of harmony with the leaders of the Church and the counsel and directions they give. Such a position is wholly inconsistent, because the guidance of this Church comes, not alone from the written word, but also from continuous revelation, and the Lord gives that revelation to the Church through His chosen leaders and none else. It follows, therefore, that those who profess to accept the gospel and who at the same time criticize and refuse to follow the counsel of the leaders, are assuming an indefensible position. Such a spirit leads to apostasy. It is not new.

    Brother Romney was indeed a prophet; his words apply equally as well today as they did in 1942 when he spoke them in general conference. Seems there were Jana Riess’s then also.

    • Dennis you don’t get to decide who is “Loyal” or who is “blind”, that’s not you. Stop with the obession with Jana Riess or anybody else who you disagrees with you. In the April 1949 General Conference then Elder Spencer W. Kimball called racists in the Church to repentance for thinking they superior to our native american brothers and sisters. To paraphrase what he said, “There were superior peoples in the days of these Liberals who were intolerant, and Jacob called them to repentance with boldness:

      Wherefore, a commandment I give unto you, which is the word of God, that ye revile no more against them because of they disagree with Dennis Horne; neither shall ye revile against them because of their filthiness; but ye shall remember your own filthiness, and remember that their filthiness came because of their fathers. (Jacob 3:9.)”
      In others Dennis, stop with the religious bullying.

      I conclude with what Elder Kimball said then,
      “May God help us to recognize our duty toward these our brothers and sisters and help us show our love for him by our devotion to the work of bringing all blessings which we enjoy to these our kinsmen.” Just because you don’t agree with someone doesn’t allow you to judge them or characterize them as an apostate, that’s not you or will it ever be you.

      • Supposed McConkie relative-
        I doubt you are actually a McConkie relative (as claimed by your user name) because the ones I have met are sharp, faithful, knowledgeable, and know the difference between the philosophies and criticisms promulgated by people like Riess, and what Elder McConkie taught:
        “On every issue it behooves us to determine what the Lord would have us do and what counsel he has given through the appointed officers of his kingdom on earth. No true Latter-day Saint will ever take a stand that is in opposition to what the Lord has revealed to those who direct the affairs of his earthly kingdom. No Latter-day Saint who is true and faithful in all things will ever pursue a course, or espouse a cause, or publish an article or book that weakens or destroys faith. There is, in fact, no such thing as neutrality where the gospel is concerned. . . .
        If we do not sustain and uphold and support the kingdom of God in all things, we are thereby aiding a cause other than the Lord’s.”

        You might read Riess’s last few blogs and ponder where her words place her on this question.
        I suggest you might take a look at what Sam Garner said in a below comment; he seems to have this concept figured out and can discern the difference.
        (I also suggest you proofread your comments before submitting them, since they will sound better containing less error.)

  6. God isn’t going to tell me how to run the Church. He isn’t going to tell Jana Reiss how to run it either. I find your argument that she intentionally chose to interview people who would back up her thesis to be very compelling.
    People like Jana Reiss also need to realize that most members of the Church now reside outside of the US. If she really wants to understand what Millenials in yhe Church think, she needs to broaden her scope a lot.
    I find the observation that people who left the Church had serious problems with the Church as teenagers to be unsurprising. That fits what has happened in my own family. It’s also hardly surprising that people who left the Church arecmore likely to have committed serious transgressions either before or after leaving the Church. Sin separates us from God.

    • Keep your head burried in the sand. And keep thinking people left the church because they did something as a teenager, or they transgressed “before or after” they left the church, were offended, lazy etc. I have been an active member for over 50 years. Served a mission, married in the temple, Never without a calling my entire adult life from nursery to Bishopric. The only thing that has offended me is a deep dive into church history. So while you academic types “know” all the history and have all the apologist answers just remember that the majority of us do not and are really troubled by the history!

      • FWIW, Sean, I read the scholars so I can understand the history better. They don’t have all the answers to the tough questions about Church history (and they’ll tell you that), but I find that reading faithful historians helps me get a better perspective on people and a world far removed from us today. Let’s not criticize them; let’s learn from them.

      • You’re troubled by the history because you’re approaching it wrongly. Sacred history cannot be studied objectively and without bias like secular history can. Why is this so? Because of the influence of Satan. The adversary knows that if he can undermine our confidence in the history of the church, he can then undermine and ultimately overthrow our testimony of the Restoration and a living church in general. So to avoid his nefarious influence, it’s best to remain within safe spiritual boundaries while studying church history. This includes official church publications and faith-promoting private publications, while avoiding in particular those publications which claim to approach church history from an objective, non-member, unbiased point-of-view. In my experience that’s just a disguise for the spiritually lethal combination of worldly philosophies and gospel truth.

        In summary, members of the church must approach church history the same way they approach scripture study. We don’t go to secular sources for the general interpretation of scripture do we? No, we look to prophets & apostles for that. And it’s the same with church history because the same thing is at stake: our testimony of the Restoration, and our faith/confidence in the living prophets & apostles.

        Remember that for those who have already received a testimony of the latter-day work by the power of the Holy Ghost, there is no neutral ground. There is no going back. You are either in the light of revelation or the deceptive darkness of Satan. “[For] behold, there are save two churches only; the one is the church of the Lamb of God, and the other is the church of the devil; wherefore, whoso belongeth not to the church of the Lamb of God belongeth to that great church, which is the mother of abominations; and she is the whore of all the earth.” 1 Nephi 14:10

        • This is a salient point that often goes unnoticed by those who insist on objectivity and ignore the impossibility of their demand.

          The mantic side of mankind must be addressed if truth is really to be pursued.

          Thank you for your comment.

      • Dear Sean: I am not an historian, but I researched an article on Utah Territory legal history when I was in law school by spending a year reading the verbatim transcripts of the Salt Lake Stake High Council, during decades when they resolved legal disputes among the Latter-day Saints. In these confidential meetings with members in very emotional circumstances, I found those men were very much the dame faithful people they were in public. They did not act imperiously, but considered the matters humbly and prayerfully and sought reconciliation among the members.

        The early members of the Church knew Joseph Smith intimately. They knew the history as their everyday reality. And they were faithful and true. They made tremendous sacrifices for the Church. If they could be faithful, knowing these facts firsthand, I have confidence that I am justified in trusting their testimonies, until I can catch up to their understanding.

  7. Thank you for this very worthwhile review. It made many good points along with some well-turned phrases.
    I get a little lost in the statistical math, but was able to grasp most of what was said.
    Coincidentally, earlier today I read Jana’s open letter to church leaders in her blog (reposted by the SLTribune). I also noted the headline of her last posting, stating that she didn’t feel good about paying tithing. It seems her book largely reflects her blog and her religious/political agenda–criticize the church until it changes to reflect her personal views (which it will never do).
    Nothing new here; just the same old drumbeat of liberal/progressive/dissident whining. She obviously does not understand doctrine, or, wrests doctrine she might understand to push her agenda.
    She is the blind leading the blind and this review helps point that out lucidly. Well done.

    • Your own blog, Dennis, pushes your religious bullying agenda or the “beam” as Christ said. God has no need for that. In 1987 then Elder Oaks said “One who focuses on faults, though they be true, tears down a brother or a sister. The virtues of patience, brotherly kindness, mutual respect, loyalty, and good manners all rest to some degree on the principle that even though something is true, we are not necessarily justified in communicating it to any and all persons at any and all times”. How many blog posts do you have, Dennis, where you judge, and find fault with others like Terryl Givens and Jana Riess? Count them. In the early 1960’s then Elder Harold B. Lee told Truman Madsen that the future of the Church depends on members who are both faithful and learned. Don’t judge others who are learned just because you aren’t. You claim to accept prophets but really only cherry picked statements from certain ones that fit you own extremely narrow minded, skewed view of the world. Your obsession with her points out the fact that you aren’t that much different and it must scare you. She is open to her own vulnerabilities but you seem to hide yours through self righteoussess. It’s your jealousy of her reach that seems to drive you. Moving on to others matters, in 1999 Elder Ben B. Banks gave a talk in General Conference about why people leave the Church and no surprises your assesment of those who leave don’t fit the data.Elder Banks said,
      “Most active members believe that less-active members behave differently because they don’t believe the Church’s doctrine. A study by the Church’s Research Information Division does not support this assumption. It shows that almost all less-active members interviewed believe that God exists, that Jesus is the Christ, that Joseph Smith was a prophet, and that the Church is true.

      As part of another study, a group of active members who previously had been less active were asked why they did not attend church. The most common reasons given were:

      Feelings of unworthiness.

      Personal or family problems.

      Parents or spouse were less active.

      Teenage rebelliousness or laziness.

      Conflicts with work schedules.

      Church too far away, lacked transportation.

      They were then asked what had influenced them to return to activity in the Church. The most common answers were:

      Faced with crisis in life.

      Overcame personal problems.

      The example of a spouse or girlfriend/boyfriend.

      Influence of family members.

      Wanted the gospel influence for family.

      Fellowshipping from ward members, moved to a new ward where people cared about them.

      (See Research Information Division comparison, Sept. 1999.)”
      Liberals leave the Church but also conservatives. I can’t even count how many people have said “I will never leave this Church” and yet have done so, callings don’t matter, advances in the priesthood don’t matter. Don’t be proud of your humility because who knows, Dennis, could be next?

      • John Gee & Dennis Horne aren’t bullying Jana Reiss. They’re criticizing some of her public writings about church-related issues, and they’re doing so in a wholly civil manner: no name calling, emotional rants, personal attacks, etc. That’s how one engages in healthy debate, and it’s entirely in harmony with the principles of the gospel.

        If, on the other hand, they were criticizing statements she made in private or some off-the-cuff social media blurb, then that might constitute bullying. But they have instead targeted her deliberately public writings & statements, which is perfectly appropriate. When she or anyone for that matter willingly enters the arena of ideas, they do so with a full knowledge that those with opposing views are going to challenge them. And as long as they do so civilly, they have committed no sin a’ la Gee & Horne. For what you’re suggesting is akin to saying that a boxer, who has willingly entered the rink, is in fact being bullied by his opponent if he hits back. Such a concept, needless to say, is erroneous.

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